Steele County District Court File No. C8-03-1557.
In a wrongful-death action, it is within the discretion of the district court to instruct a jury to adjust to present cash value the loss of future aid, advice, comfort, and companionship.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Worke, Judge
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
On appeal from the district court's denial of posttrial motions, appellant argues that the district court erred when it instructed the jury to determine the present cash value of the loss of future aid, advice, comfort, and companionship that the deceased would have provided rather than the future value of the loss. Because the district court did not materially misstate the law in its instruction to the jury and the instruction was an appropriate exercise of the district court's discretion, we affirm.
Frank Gasner and Herman Eaker were involved in a two-car accident. Sheryl Gasner, a passenger in her husband's vehicle, died as a result of the accident. Eaker was insured under a policy that had a liability limit of $100,000 and a $1,000,000 umbrella policy. Sheryl Gasner was insured under an automobile-insurance policy issued by respondent Western National Mutual Insurance Company. Sheryl Gasner's policy provided underinsured-motorist coverage in the amount of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Appellant Steven C. Youngquist, trustee for the next of kin of Sheryl Lynn Gasner, settled the claim against Eaker for $900,000. Appellant settled the claim against Frank Gasner for $25,000. Appellant then asserted that Eaker had been operating an underinsured vehicle and made a claim for underinsured-motorist benefits. Respondent did not pay appellant underinsured-motorist benefits, asserting that $1,100,000 in coverage was available under Eaker's liability-insurance policies.
Appellant filed an underinsured-motorist claim against respondent. The parties disagreed regarding whether the jury should be instructed to adjust an award for the loss of future aid, advice, comfort, and companionship to present cash value. The district court reviewed the jury-instruction guides and spoke to the judicial-advisory service and determined that compensation for loss of future aid, advice, comfort, and companionship should be reduced to present cash value. In determining the amount of future damages, over appellant's objection, the district court gave the jury the following instruction:
After finding the dollar value of future damages for:
a. Loss of future earnings and services
b. Loss of future aid, advice, comfort, and companionship you must then find the present cash value of this amount, and award only the present cash value. This is called "adjusting," and is based on inflation and the fact that invested money earns interest.
The jury found that Eaker's negligence was a direct cause of the accident. The jury determined that (1) $7,762.69 for funeral expenses; (2) $125,000 for loss of financial support from the date of her death to the present date; (3) $200,000 for aid, comfort, advice, and companionship she would have given from the date of her death to the present date; (4) $400,000 for loss of future financial support; and (5) $250,000 for future aid, comfort, and advice would fairly and adequately compensate Sheryl Gasner's next of kin. Based on the jury's verdict, the district court concluded that the total damages for the pecuniary loss suffered by Sheryl Gasner's next of kin was $975,000, and based on that award, Eaker was not an underinsured motorist. The district court dismissed all claims against respondent with prejudice. Appellant moved for amended findings and for a new trial based on ...